In most organizations project managers need to be skilled in both communicating downward to motivate their project teams and communicating upward to influence their managers. Yet while inefficient communication with team members comes with its own set of issues, ineffective communication with senior management may put the whole project at risk.
Senior managers today generally operate in "command and control" mode, and most organizational processes support this view. Despite theories of team motivation based on empowerment, delegation and job enrichment, control is still the favorite with most senior management.
Project managers need to develop the skills needed to advise upward effectively. In so doing, they must align the project's objectives with the organization's strategic objectives and, more importantly, ensure the key senior managers appreciate this fact and contribute to the project's success.
The key is helping your boss look good.
This can be achieved by providing good information and analysis for decision-making; never escalating a problem or issue without options and recommendations for a resolution; and always communicating in business language with an understanding of the manager's business drivers.
A cooperative, supportive relationship is a two-way street. Project managers need to earn the respect and support of senior managers by adopting a positive approach to communicating up the ladder. Some positive options include providing helpful notes to assist the manager deal with difficult situations, and providing a full analysis of the recommendations and options for resolving issues or making decisions.
Advising upward or helping your manager help you requires a long-term view. There is no silver bullet! You must build credibility over time by developing and maintaining a reputation for being ethical, efficient and open. And above all you must be an effective project manager in your space and a supportive team player in your manager's space.